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Criminal Justice Magazine
Winter 2004
Volume 18 Number 4

Judge Andrew Sonner Accepts Charles English Award

Editor’s Note: Judge Andrew Sonner of Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals was awarded the Criminal Justice Section’s Charles R. English Award at the Nov. 14, 2003, reception held in conjunction with the Section’s fall meeting. Judge Irma S. Raker, Maryland Court of Appeals, spoke on behalf of Judge Sonner. Judge Raker is a longtime colleague of Judge Sonner and once served as an assistant state’s attorney when he was state’s attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland. The award presentation was made by Section Chair Norman Maleng. Judge Sonner is a former Section chair (1991–92) and currently serves as the chair of the Section’s Standards Committee Task Force on Pretrial Release and Speedy Trial. The award is named after a prominent attorney from Santa Monica, California, who served on the Section Council and was chair of its Standards Committee. Mr. English died in 1999.

Remarks of Judge Irma S. Raker, Court of Appeals of Maryland:

It is a privilege to present the honoree and recipient of the 2003 Charles English Award, Judge Andrew L. Sonner, a man who needs no introduction to this assembled group. The selection of  Judge Sonner for this award is particularly fitting for at least two reasons: first, because he is most worthy, and second, because he knew and worked with Charlie English. He respected Charlie‘s balance, charm, and skill working with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. It is all the more special when the recipient of the award knew the person for whom the award has been named.

The Charles English Award was established in 2000, authorized by the American Bar Association Board of Governors, in memory of Charles English. The purpose of the award is to recognize lawyers and judges who provide exceptional service to the Criminal Justice Section and to those persons who have enhanced the relationship between prosecutor and defense attorneys by setting an example to subordinate ”territorial“ views to promote fairness and justice. Judge Sonner is most deserving of this award. He fits in well with the prior awardees: Terry McCarthy, Neal Sonnett, and Michael Johnson.

Let me tell you a little about Judge Sonner‘s background. He was born in Middletown, Ohio, and moved to Montgomery County, Maryland. He was a high school teacher at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, and his students will tell you, he was a very good teacher. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1957 from American University, and in 1963 he studied law at the Washington College of Law of the American University and received a J.D. degree.

As a lawyer, Judge Sonner has sat on all sides of the table. From 1964 through 1966, he was a defense attorney. Rumor has it that he won his first 12 cases, and then left defense practice to become an assistant state’s attorney in 1966. In 1971, he was elected as the state’s attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland. He was continuously elected to that constitutional office until his appointment by the governor in 1966 to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the intermediate appellate court of the state.

When I think of Judge Sonner, many words come to mind: fair; courageous; mentor; intelligent; friend; but most significant, leader. It has been said of leadership that it refers to more than just office-holding. It is a complex phenomenon revolving about influence—the ability to move others in desired directions. ( See Women as National Leaders (Michael Genovese ed., Sage Publications 1993).) Andy has done just that, with his progressive thinking, high morals, and strong ethics. It is Andy’s style, political acumen, personal attributes, character traits, and his vision that make him the strong leader in our legal community, locally and nationally.

I would like to highlight three significant accomplishments of our honoree. First, the state’s attorney’s office in Montgomery County, Maryland, under Andy’s leadership for 25 years, was a model for the country. His progressive thinking was reflected in the way he ran his office and the high standards he demanded of his assistants. He set the tone and emphasized the importance of maintaining good relations with the practicing bar. He initiated open file discovery, thus providing information way beyond the legal requirements. He had a heightened concern for Brady issues. He had an abiding concern for the precious time of the private practitioners and particularly the defense bar.

Second, he opened the closed doors of the practice of law in the county to women and minorities. Before he was the state’s attorney, in criminal law, the prosecutors and defense attorneys (and even the judges) were all white males. He hired me as the first woman prosecutor, followed by the first African American, and the first Asian American. It had a domino effect—soon the public defender’s office hired women and minorities. The sheriff’s office followed, as did the judiciary.

Finally, within the ABA, Judge Sonner was a leader in the Criminal Justice Section. He served as chair of the Council, a member of many committees, and chair of too many task forces to mention. He was a leader, along with many others in this room, like Norm Maleng and Neal Sonnett, in creating a structure within this Section Council designed to maintain a balance between defense and prosecution, the effect of which was to keep those interests and representatives as ABA participants in the Criminal Justice Section. This was in the true spirit of Charlie English.


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